The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is expecting the issue of independent contractor status to shift from a state-by-state strategy to a national agenda under a Joe Biden administration.
“I anticipate changes from the regulatory side and executive-order side under a Biden administration, and a U.S. Department of Labor possibly led by Bernie Sanders, who has shown an interest in being secretary of labor,” said Chris Spear, speaking at the ATA’s National Accounting and Finance Council annual conference Monday.
“If that happens, it becomes less a patchwork of states, but a national agenda, and it’s something we’re going to have to fight directly in Washington.”
The Trump administration recently proposed new guidelines for employee classification that were largely seen as making it easier for employers to classify workers as independent contractors.
Spear, who was providing a post-election regulatory update for attendees, anticipated making actual independent contractors available to make the case in support of independent contractor (vs. company employee) status in front of regulators.
“I’m kind of viewed as the evil employer who wants to deny people health insurance and benefits,” Spear said. “It’s not true, but as an employer, it’s easy for the decision-makers to cast us in that light. We have to take that argument away. Putting the actual driver, the actual independent contractor in front of them who say they like the flexibility or whatever their reason — it should be coming out of their mouths.”
Spear said ATA is keeping close watch on the outcome of the two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia. Just one of the two elections needs to remain in Republican control for Republicans to retain control of the Senate.
“Having the Senate remain Republican is absolutely essential in my opinion,” Spear said, relative to Democrats controlling the U.S. House and the White House. “It maintains balance and it forces the two sides to come together in the middle. I firmly believe that’s good for the country.”
That balance will be important when the two chambers begin debating a new infrastructure bill, which Spear believes will be one of the first issues confronting the new Congress. How to fund highways and bridges will be — as usual — the central question.
“Clearly it’s not going to be paid for by truck-only tolls,” Spear said. “We’ve been making the case that infrastructure needs to be funded for the next 10 years through the fuel tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. We determined it needs to be raised 20 cents, 5 cents a year over four years that will raise $340 billion over the next decade. That’s plenty of money to fund roads and bridges for the next 10 years.”
Paying for infrastructure raises the prospects for truck tolling — and litigation such as ATA’s fight over tolling in Rhode Island. “We litigated that successfully though federal court, and now we’re at a point where we’re going to go to trial, probably by end of January or early February,” Spear pointed out. The Rhode Island tolling litigation will cost the ATA roughly $2 million, he said, and the association has so far raised close to $700,000 toward paying for it.
“If we do not win this, other states — Connecticut, New York, Indiana, even Wyoming — are looking at a tolling scheme like this to help fund their infrastructure projects. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Other issues Spear outlined on ATA’s policy agenda in 2021 include potential changes to minimum insurance premiums, tax reform, meal and rest break laws, and progress on the use of hair testing to screen drivers for drugs.
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